Songs for the Bothy: Re-Creating Realities for a Fictive World

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This paper examines the ways in which a repertoire of songs that emerged in the first part of the nineteenth century in North-East Scotland has been transmitted to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as part of a vigorous ongoing song-creating process and performing tradition. The repertoire in question, referred to as “bothy ballads,” comprises a form of localised farmworkers’ songs that not only served to relate local incidents of farm life, but also to critique the conditions encountered on certain farms and to single out farmers who were notorious for their inconsiderate behaviour, cruelty, or meanness. The songs were written in the local vernacular tongue – a form of Lowland Scots commonly referred to as “the Doric.” This paper considers the transformation of the bothy ballad context and the processes that have enabled the form to remain relevant and meaningful for its “new” audiences. This is not a conscious contemporary re-creation or invention, as exemplified in Hobsbawm and Ranger, but a gradual development over almost two centuries in which distinctive phases are identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-50
Number of pages24
JournalFolklore Historian
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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